Boxing duo Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan get a Titanic reception as the red carpet is rolled out
Belfast's most famous export was a fitting venue for the homecoming of the city’s Olympic bronze medallist boxing heroes.
Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan were given a Titanic reception at the building honouring the famous ship on their return home on Monday.
Proudly displaying their medals, the pair spent an hour meeting many of the fans who had cheered them on throughout the Games.
The red carpet was rolled out — literally — for the reception and both were only too happy to pose for pictures and sign autographs.
Among those waiting to greet Paddy and Michael were Northern Ireland Olympic boxing heroes of yesteryear.
They included John McNally, who took silver in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki; Freddie Gilroy, who won bronze in 1956, making world headlines at the height of the Cold War by knocking out a Russian; Jim McCourt, who took bronze in Tokyo in 1964; and Hugh Russell who won bronze in 1980 in Moscow.
Olympians Jim Montague, who competed in 1972, and David Larmour, who took part in 1976, were also present.
Conlan said he was overwhelmed by the support.
“I wasn’t aware of how much support there was until I saw the news clips of people watching the fights here and seeing all the kids’ faces,” he said.
“It’s great to see all the support back home. I really do appreciate it, it’s amazing.
“I think a lot of people were watching the boxing as they had watched the (Euro 2012) football and we were terrible and had nothing to cheer about then.
“So they had something to cheer about and it just lifted the spirits of everyone in Ireland.”
Paddy was proudly displaying a wristband in support of three-year-old Oscar Knox, who is currently battling cancer.
The two have been exchanging messages on twitter with Oscar sending a picture showing his support for Paddy while he was in London.
“The support we’ve had has been unreal,” said the 25-year-old.
“We are a wee bit out of the way here and I was surprised how many people turned up. It’s great.”
Asked if there would be a knees-up at his house on Monday night, he quipped: “There better not be, I’m tired!”
The two pals — who roomed together during the Games — had their fans in stitches with their competition to get snapped with the most celebrities while in the Olympic Village.
Asked who had won the gold medal in the celeb-stalking stakes, Paddy replied: “Michael did, but only because all the celebrities were taking pictures of me so I had no photos.”
One of the biggest smiles on view was that of Michael’s grandfather, Joe Strong.
“I’m very proud of him,” he said.
“I watched it all at home and loved every minute of it.”
“I’m very proud for what they have achieved, the two boys, especially Paddy with his second medal. I think they deserve everything that comes before them,” added Michael’s dad, John.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin — who recently announced her department was pumping £3m into the sport — was also on hand to congratulate the pair.
“I think it’s great to have them back in Belfast and for the people of Belfast to be out recognising their achievements and honouring them,” she said.
Fans had gathered at the Titanic building from early afternoon to catch a glimpse of the duo, and they weren’t disappointed.
“It was brilliant,” said Kevin Jones from Wales.
“We have been waiting for about three hours, but it was worth it. Fantastic”.
The two fighters had earlier been given a welcome in Dublin along with the rest of Team Ireland after their plane touched down at Dublin Airport.
Despite the confusion surrounding arrangements for the homecoming, the athletes, visibly overwhelmed, faced one last Olympian task — to survive the media rush that awaited them at a small, private reception.
The Belfast boxers, gold medal winner Katie Taylor and silver medallist John Joe Nevin, as well as showjumper Cian O'Connor, took the lead, but the festivities were also a team celebration.
Taylor was the star of the show, meeting every surge of questions and flash of cameras with her unrivalled charm and the grace of a champion.
“I dreamt of being Olympic champion as a 10 or 11-year-old and dreams can come true at the end of the day,” she said.
As the Northern Ireland boxers headed north to see their home fans, Katie returned to Bray, her beloved granny and a massive street celebration in the town.
A similar reception was planned for bantamweight silver medalist John Joe Nevin, who was also to get a celebratory tour through his hometown of Mullingar.